Resources help college students file taxes for the first time

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Dillon Papenfuss, left, helps a student with her online tax submission at BYU Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Although taxes can be an unfamiliar process for college students, knowing the basics can make all the difference. (Elizabeth Blight)

Various resources are available to reduce tax season stress for college students filing taxes for the first time.

“Taxes aren’t scary,” said Elizabeth Blight, a co-site coordinator at BYU’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is a program in which qualified volunteers prepare and e-file community members’ federal and state tax returns. The program operates an on-campus location in the Tanner Building. BYU students can schedule an appointment online. The lab is open Mondays through Saturdays until April 1.

“My advice to first-time filers is to not procrastinate,” Blight said. “It’s an unfamiliar process, and time pressure brings even more stress. You’ll also get your refund faster if you’re ahead of the curve.”

Blight said students can maximize their tax refunds through the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which generates a refund of $1,000 to a student, even if the student owes zero taxes for the year. However, if students are claimed as a dependent to their parents, only the parents can file for the education credit.

Tax professional Ashlyn Billat, from Orem-based accounting firm Squire, said student tax returns are usually pretty straightforward. She said keeping good records can make the process go even more smoothly.

“Make sure to keep good records of all education expenses, not just tuition,” Billat said. “This includes the cost of books and other course-related materials.”

Billat also recommended entrepreneurial students keep track of all income and expenses related to their small business. She said Quickbooks can be a good online tool to help with this.

BYU mechanical engineering student Tanner Rozier decided to file his taxes at H&R Block this year because it was his first time facing the responsibility on his own.

“It was pretty easy and stress free, took only 20 minutes or so, but also cost a ton of money and probably wasn’t worth it,” Rozier said. “But I should still be getting a bunch of money from my returns, so I still appreciated it.”

Like many other students, Rozier said he filed through H&R Block because he wasn’t sure how to effectively file his taxes. He said if he were to do it again, he would have saved the money he spent at H&R Block by learning the process himself or by asking a friend.

“Spend the time to figure it out if you don’t know,” Rozier said. “Ask a friend. Don’t waste your money.”

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